Gourmet Bakery maybe all glory but trust me! I’ve had enough of it. When I first landed in Lahore to live by myself, it was during Ramadan. A mutual friend, K and I would scour the city looking for suitable housing and Gourmet was our prince in shinning armor. Suprizingly enough no real estate agent earned that title until Shauki Boy sauntered into our lives a year and half later.
The thing about Shauki Boy is he’s got no office and he’s no real real estate agent. He’s someone’s guard who looks up housing for people like you and me – the outcasts. The boy doesn’t judge. Tell him you want your freedom, friends from the opposite sex staying over, separate entrance, the life, the works! He won’t bat an eye. He’ll just get to work. Out of the 100 houses he will show you, you will only like 2 to 3 but know that he’s got your back. And no, he isn’t a boy boy. He’s an old man!
Shaukat Real Estate Agent: 0300-4156691
Note: Always ask for a separate electricity/gas meter when renting a space for yourself. Real estate agents get half of the rent as their payment and the landlord gets two months rent as advance and one month’s rent as security when you finally settle upon a place. Come out clear early on. If you’re going to have parties, be honest. At the end of the day, its your house. You’ve got to be able to live on your own terms.
I scare me at times. I had taken Woolf too literally when she had said that a woman must have money and a room of one’s own if she is to write fiction. I threw three cats and no fiction into the mix and am living my own interpretation of her famed essay. Though I’d like to think I’m living a beautiful Austen story instead, except I’m not. I am yet to master the art of silence, of punctuated breaks and articulated thoughts. I pour my heart out over texts, essay after essay sent to his inbox. And before he has the time to read the love letters imploding his phone, I send another one for silence scares me. I try to fill it, the harrowing silence, with words. Words upon words. And let me tell you a thing about words. They become meaningless after a while when you use them to fill voids. They abandon you. You’re left with empty syllables, a pinning heart and emojis for answers. These late night blunders, words thrown into black holes are coming back to haunt me. Even the cats are judging my sanity now.
If I look back, it is obvious that I had my head in the clouds when I rolled my bags across the Pearson International Airport. It was a crisp summer morning in Toronto and yet the universe got into action like it usually does, my flight got delayed thrice. But then I am a desi through and through and reading signs just isn’t my thing. I went on to board that flight and then another and then another and landed in the ‘Land of the Pure’, my eyes set on a bright future. I was going to live alone in Lahore and take rickshaws at 4 in the morning to go watch sunrise from the minarets of Badshahi Mosque and do reporting for a kick-ass newspaper.
I ended up renting a room in a crumbling old building in the poshest area of the city, working as a content writer and coming to terms with my limited access to public space as a girl . Life as a single girl living independently in Lahore isn’t Saba Imtiaz’s ‘Karachi You’re Killing Me’ after all. Here I was relying on male friends to drive me around the city (pre-Uber era), getting pinched in the markets now and then by perverts and finding out that a good sized water melon shouldn’t cost me Rs.1000.
But after three years of living alone in this city, fighting with landlords and dealing with broken water motors and moody circuit breakers at three in morning, I’ve come to realize that Lahore’s home now. Of course, I can’t go for a run on the streets or lay down with a book in a public park. I can’t roll up my pants and dangle my feet in the nehr at night or walk into a market without being ogled from head to toe. But it is in Lahore that I truly kicked off a budding career in communications and community management. I found my path in the yellow woods. I met the most important people in my life along with the most helpful strangers. The city sucked ego and cynicism out of my chest, shattered me more than once and then let me rebuild myself. I’m still in the process of learning to look for solutions, jugaads instead of complaining and crying. I’m still in the process of learning what is socially acceptable and what is not. Wrapping up three years in this city seems like a feat and just about the right time to go from being the ‘New Girl in Lahore’ to just ‘Girl in Lahore’.
It had been months! The man in shinning Ray-Ban wasn’t budging. I needed to dress up, look sharp and be swept off to a nice dinner but his definition of a dinner date has been changed to ‘Netflix and Chill’ or rather ‘Torrents and Take Out’ and there’s nothing one can do about it except wait for the internet bundle to run out. And when it did run out, I slipped on my new Mango tee (that’s as dressed up as I’ll ever be) and he pulled out his Toms. Off we went to Rina’s Kitchenette (the one on Main Boulevard).
There’s much to be said about pretentious dinning in Lahore but I’d rather keep my mouth zipped here. Walk into one of the more upscale restaurants and when you find Drake blazing out of the speakers as you fiddle with your fork and knife, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Rina’s Kitchenette was a different story.
We found ourselves seated on a communal table with nice plush bar stools, no wooden seat corners digging into my thighs, no back aching, no staring back at K in sheer awkwardness. It was an informal and yet comfortable seating with a fun and casual vibe. K ordered Chicken Schnitzel and I went for Aglio E Olio. Simple comfort food cooked to perfection. His was golden and crisp and came with fresh home made bread. Mine was hearty and wholesome and tasted even better the next day. The dessert, the dessert, the Nutella Caramel cake slice! We dug into it with our tiny teaspoons satiating a desire we didn’t know of before! And I have kept going back for it again and again. Lazy K’s skeptical, I wouldn’t be able to hold off the weight I lost over the past couple of weeks but trust me! If I end up leaving Lahore, I’d be bummed I didn’t have my cake and eat as much of it as my heart desired!
PS. Someone pray the internet bundle runs out again! There’s this Smash Burger that everyone’s been talking about! Man in Shinning Ray-Ban, are you listening?
Note: I wrote this piece a while back for ‘The Lookout Journal’. Etching just a snippet of it piece on the blog today. You can read the full piece here.
“There is a moment sandwiched between the last breath of electricity and the first hum of the generators. That moment is mine. The city stands still. It freezes. In that moment. For that moment.
And then a second comes to completion, clocks tick, fans start turning, candles start melting.
That moment when reality hits, when air conditioners stop and the prospect of heat seeping inside closed doors starts haunting others, I look at Lahore and smile. That’s the only honest moment the city gives me…”
You know the feeling that someone is hammering you down there, under? The feeling that you and I try to cloak with painkillers and the shopkeeper with brown paper bags? Well our friends over at Angry Girl are here to rant, complain and start an open conversation about it! And today I’m talking to them about talking about it. Confused? Read on.
NewGirl: Period talk! When did you decide to take the brown bag off it and start talking about Aunt Flo out loud?
Angry Girl: When the team realized that the only hygiene essentials that are not being sold online in Pakistan are sanitary napkins, we knew we had to be okay with talking about menstruation openly as a society, something had to be done. And so Angry Girl came to life to start a conversation, change a perception.
NewGirl: Talking about perceptions, is the Angry Girl only angry about menstruation?
Angry Girl: One step at a time. Angry Girl is angry about period non-versations today. Tomorrow she might pick up another topic. But until she makes sure her voice is heard on one platform, she cannot jump to another. We cannot let an issue be lost amidst the clutter of others, especially when it means so much.
NewGirl: Will the issues only be women-related?
Angry Girl: The thing is, we never considered what Angry Girl was talking about to be a ‘woman-related’ issue. It is a community issue. From the conversations we initiate, we don’t want them to be considered girl-to-girl, but rather person-to-person. So yes, Angry Girl will speak about issues and they will be community related.
NewGirl: I’m curious as to how people are taking this. How has the response been like so far?
Angry Girl: We have gotten great feedback from people we were least expecting it from. Our inbox has been flooded with period confessions but there is still some hesitation. People want their identities hidden. What has shocked us though is that people we considered enlightened enough weren’t willing to talk about menstruation openly or even okay with a conversation being started around the topic. But hey! That is precisely why we are here.
NewGirl: I love how casual the tone of the whole dialogue is! Who is behind the design, the idea and its conception?
Angry Girl: We’re two guys and a girl. The design came about as a result of research where we came up with color swatches and reference images. We already had the name by then and all we needed to do was put a face to it. We wanted the Angry Girl to talk like her counterparts. She needed to talk local to be heard and understood by locals.
And when we finally wrapped up our conversation and I asked them if they had any additional comments. Here’s what they had to say:
Usually when I look at a blank space, I chatter. I fill it with words and stories that I house in my heart. I give it some inhabitants, I make it a home and then I visit it often. These days it is a different story. Writer’s block has been in town for a long time now but I’m forcing this blog post out. It has become a tradition for me to jot down my resolutions here after a quarter or almost half a year has passed and I want to keep it alive.
So here it goes…
I’m grateful for the apartment I have now. And I finally feel I’ve found that one place I wouldn’t want to leave for as long as I’m in Lahore. Now I’m on the lookout for a job like that. I plan on joining a new work place and sticking to that job for as long as I’m in the city. Too boring for my standards? Naah. I’ve waltzed around a lot, discovered what I do best, gathered a lot of experience and learned even more but now its time to settle down, apply that learning and grow within an organization. I’ve sent out my resume, have my eyes fixated on one particular organization and just need to update you on when I start working there. I’m ambitious like that. That reminds me of sugar. Yes! Sugar.
Last year, I quit sugar for almost two months. Just two months but only two months changed my attitude towards all things sweet. I have had zero midnight sugar cravings since. The idea of over indulging in desserts nauseates me and coffee with sugar is a big no now. Even I can’t believe myself! Sugar was my life line, my constant. I will have to write a full blog post on how going sugar free for two months changed my eating preferences. But first, I’d need to shake off that writer’s block holding onto me from the back. I write extensively for work but I miss being able to write here. This year I want to blog more regularly, write better and truly get this space bubbling with fun and Lahore-esque content.
And before you buzz away, judge me for quitting sugar, let me tell you I want to hold onto you my readers, the plants I’m growing and the people who brighten up my days. Some bonds are too special and I want to work towards keeping them in harmony. By the way, did I mention I want to grow my own food? Well some of it! More to come on that later.
Lastly, I want to spend more time grounding, meditating and learning more about the universe we inhabit.
What are your resolutions for this year? Do share! I’ve a feeling jotting down resolutions here makes us stick to them. Trust me I’ve stuck to almost of all the resolutions I published on the blog last year and the year before. Can I call it my lucky space?